Book Review : What Feasts at Night

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : What Feasts at NightWhat Feasts at Night (Sworn Soldier #2) by T. Kingfisher
Published by Tor Nightfire on February 13, 2024
Genres: Horror, LGBTQ
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two-half-stars
Source: NetGalley

The follow-up to T. Kingfisher’s bestselling gothic novella, What Moves the Dead .
Retired soldier, Alex Easton, returns in a horrifying new adventure.
After their terrifying ordeal at the Usher manor, Alex Easton feels as if they just survived another war. All they crave is rest, routine, and sunshine, but instead, as a favor to Angus and Miss Potter, they find themself heading to their family hunting lodge, deep in the cold, damp forests of their home country, Gallacia.
In theory, one can find relaxation in even the coldest and dampest of Gallacian autumns, but when Easton arrives, they find the caretaker dead, the lodge in disarray, and the grounds troubled by a strange, uncanny silence. The villagers whisper that a breath-stealing monster from folklore has taken up residence in Easton’s home. Easton knows better than to put too much stock in local superstitions, but they can tell that something is not quite right in their home. . . or in their dreams.

While I’ve never met a T. Kingfisher book I didn’t like, What Feasts at Night was regrettably not my favorite of her works by any means. Though the novella does a great job setting the atmosphere of fictional country Gallacia, it failed to truly creep me out like its predecessor, What Moves the Dead, or like her other works, The Twisted Ones and A House with Good Bones. Though I really liked the vibes of the book, with main character Alex Easton returning to their isolated hunting lodge in the forest of their home country of Gallacia, I wasn’t creeped out or terribly invested in the story. 

 

“Serrated ranks of pine lined the road, with the bare branches of oaks thrusting out between them like arthritic fingers. The sky was the color of a lead slug and seemed barely higher than the trees themselves. Combined with the wagon ruts that left a ridge down the center of the road, I had the unpleasant feeling that I was riding straight down a giant throat.”*

 

Kingfisher, as always, really knows how to set a scene, using haunting imagery left and right to create a feeling of foreboding. I could easily picture the deserted hunting lodge in a state of disrepair,  with its taxidermied trophy heads looming over everything. So too, could I picture the cold dank forest in which it sat, and the small village town where Alex and Angus hire help in the form of a stout widow and her grandson. The widow was truly my favorite of all the characters in this novella, even out of the returning ones, like Alex, Angus, and Miss Potter. I loved her open disdain for her employer, the “wastrel” Alex, and her own brand of practicality that she managed to maintain even amidst her own countless superstitions. It is through her that Kingfisher’s trademark sense of humor really shines.

 

As Angus had predicted, I did not like the Widow, but that was neither here nor there, because I understood her perfectly well. She needed the money and was grateful to have it and resented both the need and the gratitude. She dealt with that resentment by taking it out on her employer, namely me.”

 

The employer in question, Alex Easton, is a bit worse for the wear after the events of What Moves the Dead, which is something the novella doesn’t shy away from. I really liked all of the references and flashbacks to the previous book, as I feel so often that the heroes in works of media are left unchanged by such traumatic events. But that is not at all the case for Alex, who is still working through their trauma from both the war and the horror that struck their friends, The Ushers. Readers can choose to start the series with either entry, but I do think having read What Moves the Dead added layers to both Alex’s and my own experience of reading What Feasts at Night.

 

I also really liked that Alex had not returned to this lodge or village in Gallacia for many years, so their understanding of the beliefs and culture of the villagers was just familiar enough to move the plot along, but wasn’t expert enough to not need things spelled out for them. This made them the perfect narrator for the situation, as readers never really felt Alex had quite a full understanding of the people, area, and the superstitions. Due to Alex’s own obliviousness and admitted shortcomings in comprehension of local beliefs, the sense of unease builds throughout the story, as it’s obvious that something supernatural is at play—even though they are determined not to believe it.

 

Unfortunately, despite their experiences in What Moves the Dead, Alex has no problems denying what is going on in What Feasts the Night, even when it’s painfully obvious. I was frustrated by their continued forced obliviousness to the situation at hand. I am sure this refusal to accept that there is something larger at play in the woods of Gallacia is to move the plot forward, but it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me as Alex has been so traumatized by the events of What Moves the Dead. It would have felt more logical if Alex were paranoid that something supernatural was actually going on rather than their continued nonacceptance of it. 

 

“Don’t look, I thought, don’t look. I’d learned long ago that things you don’t see can kill you, but at least the visions don’t stalk your mind for decades after.”

 

I was also really pleased that What Feasts at Night was less information dump-y than its predecessor about the pronouns and the whole sworn soldier thing. Instead of over-explaining the concepts, like in What Moves the Dead, this novella presents the ideas in a more off-handed, casual way that feels natural. Instead of these overly long introspective explanations that were the norm in What Moves the Dead, special pronouns and concepts are simply explained to an intelligent foreigner in a sentence or two, making them accessible and easy to grasp. This style of explanation meant I was not finding my attention slipping away and prevented the story from grinding to a halt for said information.

 

And the story is interesting enough, so I was glad I was able to give it my undivided attention without having to try to decipher other things and their significance. The creature the villagers of Gallacia fear is at large again is one that seems to encapsulate a lot of our own world’s paranormal creatures, but still manages to be unique. Despite the originality of this being, I found I really lamented the loss of the Poe-retelling aspect of What Moves the Dead, as it made for a much stronger and more suspenseful story in which I had felt immediately invested. Sadly, nothing in What Feasts at Night quite compares to the building tension and dread of What Moves the Dead.

 

Though What Feasts at Night is a short and fun story with likable characters, good humor, and a disquieting atmosphere, there’s not a whole lot of substance to the story and it also doesn’t have the Poe retelling angle going for it.  One can easily read this novella in a single sitting if they aren’t bothered by the slower place and longer set-up. I would definitely recommend this to readers who are looking for more of a cozy spooky novella than an actual horror story, as it presents a sense of unease more than actual scares. Though I didn’t care for this entry in the Sworn Soldier series as much as the first, I’ll still be on the lookout for upcoming books in the series, as I am curious where Alex’s adventures will lead them next.

 

*All quotations taken from an ARC and subject to change at time of publication.

 

two-half-stars
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Book Review : What Feasts at Night - Blogging with Dragons

Posted January 5, 2024 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Mystery, Thrillers, and Horror

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6 responses to “Book Review : What Feasts at Night

  1. I’m interested to read this even though I feel like What Moves the Dead didn’t necessarily need a follow up. My main interest in it was the Poe retelling but I’m not sure if I’ll enjoy What Feasts at Night as much. But I do enjoy T. Kingfisher so I’m still going to read it, hahaha.

    • I felt the exact same way. I still enjoyed it, but it just didn’t capture me like What Moves the Dead. I wonder if Kingfisher will go back to Poe in the future. That would definitely interest me!

  2. I was hoping this would be on par with What Moves the Dead, but I was also a little disappointed by it! It really wasn’t all that spooky and yes, the widow might have been the best character out of the bunch 😀

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